The Arctic Challenge from a Danish Perspective: A Discussion with Read Admiral (Retired) Henrik Kudsk
2014-06-06 By Robbin Laird
During my recent visit to Denmark, I had a chance to discuss the Arctic challenge with a Danish naval officer with many years of Arctic experience.
Rear Admiral (Retired) Henrik Kudsk has 41 years of experience in the Danish Navy with much of that in the Arctic, including being the commander at one time of the Greenland-based Danish forces.
Question: How important is Arctic experience to understanding the Arctic challenge?
Kudsk: It is very important because of how unique the terrain actually is. In many parts of the world, one can forget how dominant nature is in reality; you cannot forget that a single day in the Arctic.
In the Arctic your mentality changes because you know that nature sets conditions, in quite a different way for normal Western life.
Operations are challenging as well. When you sail your ship, when you fly an aircraft, there are times in which you have to apply power.
You have to push forward. Whereas, other conditions, if you do that, even a small mistake will kill you.
With several years of operational experience, you can become attuned to how best to survive and persist in the Arctic.
Question: What is the challenge for the Danish Navy to operate in the Arctic?
Kudsk: Our presence is 365 days a year. That means a ship up there will meet the monster wave, will meet the perfect storm. You will experience both.
Also, you will have the very beautiful nature. You will have the sunny day in the high Arctic, but also you have extreme weather that exceeds hurricane force winds, with deep chilling temperatures that will exceed what you’re experiencing in temperate parts of the world.
If you’re not prepared, and if you’re equipment is not designed to operate in the Arctic, you’ll flounder.
I can give an example of the design aspect.
For instance, our patrol frigates weigh around 3,500-4,000 tons; helicopter carrying, and looks like a frigate. They are double-crewed: they swap the crew, like an A and B team.
We fly people up to a relevant harbor and then swap crew every 2nd or 3rd month.
For the daily work, you will need Coast Guard-type equipment. You have a relatively small crew for the size of the ship as well.
The other point is that our ships are geared low.
They have a lot of power, relative to their size. They are more like a Jeep than a Ferrari. That means that our ships up there have a maximum speed of around 20-21 knots and they are the fastest ships you can employ in the Arctic.
Our ships are designed to propel in even the most severe weather. They can propel through ice and ice-filled areas as well.
Question: What is the most basic need to operate in the Arctic in the decade ahead as the Arctic opening proceeds?
Kudsk: Clearly, the most basic need is to build out ISR and, in effect, build out a communications and sensor grid to provide for the kind domain awareness most central to development, safety and security in the region.
And this is doable, because compared to other regions; there is significantly less traffic and human habitation. This makes it easier to identify the anomalies and threats, which need to be monitored.
You have a pristine environment up there where human activity is relatively visible, when compared to the rest of the world, where you can disappear in a crowd. But you still need systems, which can help you, see over vast distances and in difficult communications conditions.
For example, I believe that leasing capability from the Canadian Radarsat system might make sense for Denmark as we build out the grid, which we will need to operate in the region as it opens up.
There are major challenges for communication systems in the region as well.
Today, most systems are designed to operate always on and always connected. This is impossible in the Arctic where you have only windows where you can communicate, not a constant capability to do so.
Question: We have had agreement by the Arctic five about working together to deal with the Arctic opening. The Russians are key member of the Arctic council, and how do you see the way ahead in shaping operative collaboration?
Kudsk: The key is to push collaboration down to the operational level and to get the safety and security capabilities of the key players in the region able to work together. This requires exercises as well as enhancing ability to share data and communications as well.
It also has to be remembered that the Artic is not Antarctica. Antarctica is a land mass and can be divided up as such.
The Arctic is dominated by the sea and requires cross-national cooperation in providing for the safety and security required as the Arctic opens up.
The Russians are the largest stakeholders in the Arctic with roughly 50% of the known resources under their control; obviously, cooperation with the Russians is part of the way ahead.
Editor’s Note: This command brief dating from 2012 provides a good overview of how the world looks from Greenland, seen by a commander in charge of the security and defense of Greenland.
The turnover occurred in the Fall of 2012.
And for earlier discussions with senior Commanders with Arctic responsibility and experience see the following:
Also see the related articles as well:
For an earlier briefing by another noted Danish expert on the Arctic see the following: